All flights were grounded at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on Friday night after a person stole an airplane and flew it over Puget Sound, where it later crashed.
Airport officials confirmed that the plane had crashed on Ketron Island in south Puget Sound and identified the person who took the plane as an “airline employee.” His condition was not known as of late Friday. The Pierce County Sheriff’s Office later identified the employee as a 29-year-old mechanic who worked for an unknown airline and added that he was a “suicidal male.”
The sheriff’s office also stressed that it was not a terrorist situation but said it was conducting a background check on a Pierce County resident.
Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor called the flight a “joyride gone terribly wrong” in a news conference Friday, adding that “most terrorists don’t do loops over the water.”
Alaska Airlines said it was aware of an “incident involving an unauthorized take-off of a Horizon Air Q400,” adding that it believed there were no passengers aboard the plane. The Bombardier Q400 can carry 76 passengers.
Two F-15 Eagles were deployed out of Portland, Oregon, in response to the incident but were not involved in the plane’s crash. They were credited with keeping the plane from crashing in a densely populated area.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee released a statement about the incident late Friday.
“There are still a lot of unknowns surrounding tonight’s tragic incident of a stolen Horizon Airline plane from Sea-Tac Airport,” Inslee said. “The responding fighter jets flew alongside the aircraft and were ready to do whatever was needed to protect us, but in the end the man flying the stolen plane crashed on Ketron Island. I want to thank the Air National Guard from Washington and Oregon for scrambling jets to keep Washingtonians safe.”
The employee appeared to be in distress as he spoke to air traffic control while flying the stolen plane, according to a tower broadcast of the conversation.
“I’ve got a lot of people that care about me. It’s going to disappoint them to hear that I did this,” the employee said to controllers.
“I would like to apologize to each and every one of them,” the man added. “Just a broken guy, got a few screws loose, I guess. Never really knew it until now.”
At one point, the traffic controllers tried to get the employee to land at McChord Field, an Air Force base south of Tacoma, but the employee refused. The man also mentioned that he wouldn’t need help flying the aircraft because he’d “played some video games before.”
At times he joked about “wanting to shoot the shit” with the traffic controllers. And he said he was having “a blast” flying the plane.
Throughout the flight, he tried to banter with the controllers, saying he wanted “the coordinates of that orca, you know, the mama orca with that baby. I want to see that guy.”
“I need to be, like, what do you think, 5,000 feet at least to pull this barrel roll off,” he said at one point
The man also briefly suggested to the traffic controllers that there was an issue with minimum wage, saying, “minimum wage, we’ll chalk it up to that. Maybe that will grease the gears a bit with the higher-ups.”
Later he asked: “You think if I can land this successful, Alaska will give me a job as a pilot?”
Air traffic responded: “I think they will give you a job doing anything if you pull this off.”
Witnesses said they saw a plane do a “loop-the-loop” as it was being followed by fighter jets near Chambers Bay, near Tacoma. Twitter user @drbmbdgty tweeted the video, adding that the plane “subsequently crashed.”
The Coast Guard sent a vessel to Ketron Island, southwest of Tacoma, where officials said the plane had crashed.
Videos and photos from KOMO News showed flames on the island.
This story has been updated with details about the air traffic tower conversation with the man who stole the plane.
If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HOME to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.